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Review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Rachel Held Evans)

In the sexism chapter of God Behaving Badly, I said that I like to read books written by women, but since putting that in print, I realized that outside of fiction, I was a bit of a hypocrite. I rarely read non-fiction books by female authors.  Something needed to change.

So when my wife Shannon read and loved Rachel Held Evans‘, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master (2012), and said that I should read it, I said, “OK, sure.” (Shannon and I have a solidly biblical marriage–whenever she says, “Jump”, I say “How high?” She may disagree with this assessment.) I told her, “I’ll read it as soon as I finish this macho book on WWII” (An Army at Dawn).

Lest males get the wrong impression, Evan’s book is not just for women. Actually, the people who would benefit most from Evan’s entertaining narrative of how she attempted to live out biblical womanhood are in fact males. OK, the chapter on “Domesticity,” with the Martha Stewart references made me feel like I was on foreign soil, but even there Evan’s humor and insights into traditional female culture were refreshing.

As a Bible guy, I particularly appreciated Evan’s short biographies of biblical women (Eve, Deborah, Tamar, Mary, Vashti, Ruth, Mary Magdalene, Leah, the Samaritan Woman, Tabitha, Junia, and Huldah).

I loved her discussion of the Proverbs 31 Woman, a must read for anyone who considers themself either a male or a female. I was reminded of how thankful I am for my own woman of Valor, my amazing wife, Shannon.

The section on Beauty (“My breasts are like towers” – Song of Songs 8:10) was depressing in terms of what women have to listen to coming from the church. Evans was able to helpfully point out how some contemporary Christian perceptions of beauty are grossly unbiblical.

In defining kenegdo (translated as “partner” in NRSV, Gen. 2:18), Evans speaks of the ezer (“helper”) of Adam is his perfect match, “the yin to his yang, the water to his fire, the Brad to his Angelina” (p. 207). This line made me laugh out loud.

At a few places, Evan needed to nuance her points to reflect the complexity of the biblical record. For example, she states that the Bible viewed infertility “exclusively as a female defect” (p. 49), despite the story of Tamar (whom she discussed just a few pages earlier, pages 44-46). While Judah blamed Tamar, the text makes it clear it wasn’t her fault but the fault of her evil, loser husbands, Er and Onan (see Gen. 38).

Whether or not his book was the inspiration for her book, it would have been good to include more than a brief passing reference to A. J. Jacobs (p. 4), A Year of Living Biblically (a great read, btw). Also, for a book that refers to Scripture as often as hers does, a biblical index would make the book more user-friendly. 

Overall, I am glad that I was able to biblically submit to my wife Shannon’s recommendation and read this delightful book. Entertaining, enjoyable, enlightening.

(Full disclosure: The publisher Thomas Nelson did not send us a free copy. We bought it.)

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